Sitting in a lecture hall with a hundred or so other college students I took particular notice of my twelve year old son seated beside me. He was calmly looking around the large classroom, taking in the unfamiliar scene, paper and pencil neatly placed On his desk, waiting for the professor and for his college career to begin. I asked how he felt, if he was excited or nervous and he gave me a familiar frown that quickly turned to a smile and he said, "Mom the only nervous person is you, I'm fine.' Chemistry and Survival, 158B and its co-requisite chemistry lab 159, were not subjects I had chosen to master. However, they were subjects chosen by my son, along with Microcomputers 258, during his college orientation at California State University, Los Angeles.
We had arrived at the lecture hall early because I had wanted to be sure he had found the correct classroom and had effectively orientated himself to his new environment. Since it was his first day at college and his first college class I tagged along to help ease him into the adult world of college life. In all fairness I think it was to ease me into accepting his early entrance into an adult world. The experience can be likened to taking my son to his first kindergarten class and walking away knowing he was beginning a whole new phase of his life without me. This time I didn't just leave him at the classroom door with a reassuring teacher leading him into the classroom. This time I actually sat in his classroom watching as he took his first adult steps away from me. I felt pleasure and grief, excitement for the budding adult, loss for the boy that was disappearing.
My son was large for his age but still had a child's appearance so that if you only casually glanced at him in a campus setting you might assume he was an ordinary college freshman. Many people have thought it odd that I should have put my son in college at such a young age yet in fact it was the most beneficial thing his father and I could have done. My son loved college from the very beginning and begged his father and I not to return him to junior high at the end of his summer classes.
We had not planned for our son to become a full time college student. In truth the whole idea of each an actuality was far from our minds because even though he had always been a good student, he had never been a straight A student. He had to go to college to actually learn what it felt like to get straight A's. By mid quarter all previous ideas about our son's education had changed. We enrolled him into the university as a full time student.
His elementary school grades had never been an indicator of his actual academic ability. They had, until college entrance, been more a reflection of his teachers frustration at him for not keeping his work orderly or for his lack of social success in group work where the teachers accepted the grades given by the students to the students. We had always encouraged our son to work to a high standard and he never thought twice about working on projects through his weekends or over three day holidays and so on. The teacher would assign a five minute speech with at least one hand made illustration. My son would give a fifteen minute presentation and provide three or more illustrations. Sometimes he was penalized for not following instructions and given a lower grade. The quality of his work was recognized by his classmates who applauded his presentation and dreaded following him. Recognition from teachers was less reliable. My husband used to joke saying that, "If he is going to work this hard and do this quality of work he might as well he in college."
When our son had scored in the 99th percentile on a nationally recognized test he was given the opportunity to take the Washington Pre-College exam at Cal State, Los Angeles for possible admittance into college. Since the test was similar to the SAT we decided it would be an excellent opportunity for him to see how he stood with his fellow students and had him take the exam. Within 4 months of taking the WPE he was also given the opportunity to take an actual SAT as part of the Johns' Hopkins Talent Search. Interestingly enough there were only five points difference In the test scores. To our surprise and delight he took Regional Honors with John's Hopklns and was invited to attend the summer session at CSLA. Test scores and college grades had proven that our son was capable of doing college level work but more importantly it was his overwhelming desire to remain in college coupled with his eagerness for, and dedication to his studies that motivated us to grant him his wish to stay. Neither he, nor we have regretted putting him into full time college study when he was only twelve. My son would never have had the opportunity to attend college so young if it were not for the Early Entrance program at California State University, Los Angeles. The program was begun at CSLA by Dr. Estelle Gregory, Associate Professor of Psychology, and approved by the Academic Senate and President James Rosser in March of 1983. Dr. Estelle Gregory worked with Dr. Halbert Robinson, creator of the early entrance program at the University of Washington, to form the program at CSLA. Although the programs have some similarity only CSLA puts the qualified young students directly into college classes upon their acceptance into the program.
To gain admittance the young scholar must score at least 1000 on the Washington Pre-college examination administered at CSLA. The test is similar to the SAT and clearly shows the students potential for success in college. Students are put through a screening process to determine whether they are both emotionally and academically prepared for college. In addition they must write an essay stating why they are interested in college and what they wish to achieve, Prospective students are interviewed with their parents individually and meet in social situations within the early entrance rooms at CSLA. After the students have passed the screening process they are given the opportunity to sign up for classes during the summer to determine if they can be successful in their class work and happy as college students. At the end of summer classes the students are again examined for eligibility and are either admitted to full time status, placed on a waiting list or told to try again the next Summer if they are still interested. The selection for entrance is not based solely on their grades but also upon the student's desire maturity and general need for the program.
Once a student becomes a full time EEPster they are required to participate in group meetings with the EEP director and receive guidance an class selection. All students receive mid-term reports from their professors that inform the EEP director of the student's class participation, grades etc. so that the director and guide the students in ways that lead to academic success and advert potential failures. They are also encouraged to spend time In the EEP rooms so they can interact with students similar in age to themselves and to either aid those needing social adjustment or to receive such assistance.
Almost all the Early Entrance students join the Honors Program at the university and there they remain the top scholars at CSU. It is not uncommon for an EEP student to he ranked number one in their class. Almost all the EEPsters go to graduate school within two years of their graduation from college.
My son was one of the shy and inhibited new EEPsters when he first began in the program. The older EEPsters would approach him and he would rebuff their attention because he did not trust most students his age. He had left a school and students that thought his head was a place to bounce a ball off of or that his lunch was something that should be stepped on or he was the trash can upon which to dump their food. In other words and with good reason he was withdrawn from and angry at young people. The EEPsters recognized his pain and slowly worked to engage his attention. First they would play chess with him because it did not require conversation. The next step was to ask him about his classes and he would respond with one or two word sentences. After struggling for any area of interest that would spur on conversation they hit upon computer games. They noticed my son perk up when the room conversation was about computers and they took the hint. They were then engaging him In conversations that were four and five word sentences. Computer talk led to other subjects and after six months my son was socially active and had made friends. The students would not just let him sit and sulk in the EEP room for hours between classes. Their patience and persistence helped change his life.
Academic work was never a major problem for him. One of the first things he said after returning from an Honors English class was, "They actually want me to think! They don't necessarily agree with me but they are excited about creative thinking!" Ho was beside himself and his excitement was obvious. College offered him the approach to learning that he had been seeking all his years in school. To make matters even better he was receiving A's. His confidence was increasing and his interest in life was returning. A child that had only months earlier been depressed and discouraged was now talking about his future. He had friends and hope for the future. When people ask me if I think I robbed my son of his childhood by putting him in college so young I respond, "No, I've given it back to him."
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